‘Tis the season for Christmas movies! Friday is Debate Day at Trope and Dagger, and today Aaron and I are debating what makes a Christmas movie. He has a bunch of half-baked opinions that don’t make a lick of sense. Listen to me, Good Saint Andy, as I talk about what makes a Christmas movie and review my favorite Christmas movie, The Muppet Christmas Carol. Also, I’ll point out all the ways Aaron is more wrong than John Lithgow in Santa Claus: The Movie.
1. Must Take Place on Christmas. This one is a given. The entire movie doesn’t have to take place on Christmas, obviously, and most of the greatest Christmas movies only feature Christmas Eve/Day as small parts of the movie. The Muppet Christmas Carol takes place on Christmas Eve/Day, but with extensive flashbacks to Christmases from Scrooge’s past. That’s like the square root of Christmas, which I think is still just Christmas.
2. Love, Joy, Peace, and Togetherness. Christmas movies should feature a healthy dose of cynicism and misanthropy, like any good film, but at the end of the day things should all come together with some positive moral learnin’, preferably set to music. We need an emotional catharsis where all the characters forgive each other, generally even making peace with the villains (instead of violently shooting them). The Muppet Christmas Carol is about a mustache-twirling villain named Alfred Pennyworth who loves foreclosing on orphanages. By the end of the movie, he’s singing about love and buying a Christmas feast for long-abused Cratchit the Frog. His transformation is a touching reminder that we should all be kinder to our fellow man.
3. Christmas must be a major plot point. The movie doesn’t have to be 100% about the Christmas holiday season, but it needs to be a major element of the movie and a backdrop for major events. Otherwise, Christmas becomes no different than the weather. Is a movie where it rains in a couple scenes a “rain movie?” Nope. Unless it’s a movie where rain is a major plot, like that one Gene Kelly movie where he battles aliens that hide inside rain drops.
The Muppet Christmas Carol definitely qualifies. The whole plot is Scrooge learning the meaning of Christmas, as taught to him by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. His emotional revelations at the end of the movie can only happen because the black witchcraft of Christmas.
4. Tearjerking moments. A Christmas movie should touch us. Whether it’s fond memories of bygone days and friends who are no longer with us, or joyful weeping at a surprising reconciliation, there have to be serious feels in a Christmas movie. It can’t be too light and happy, because then the main characters wouldn’t learn a lesson. The Muppet Christmas Carol has its fair share of sad moments, like when Scrooge’s ladyfriend, Belle, breaks up with him through song because he’s too serious and greedy. (Interesting side-note: this song, “The Love is Gone,” was jarringly cut from the theatrical release by Jeffrey Katzenberg. It’s also tragically absent from the Netflix version, making the reprise at the end somewhat confusing.)
This was also the first Muppet movie after Jim Henson’s untimely death in 1990. Henson himself had come up with the idea for the movie before his death, and his son Brian directed it. Longtime Muppeteer Steve Whitmire played Kermit, and still does today. Knowing this context gives it an added layer of emotion, and reinforces the theme of coming together to find love and joy despite past tragedies.
5. There have to be laughs. Christmas isn’t all serious talk about love and forgiveness. It’s also about plain-old actin’ goofy. We need humor, typically inclusive, slapstick humor, although I can think of a few movies that deviated somewhat into black, mean-spirited humor.
That’s okay, as long as everyone’s nice to each other at the end. The Muppet Christmas Carol is stuffed with hilarious gags, mostly coming from Gonzo the Great as Charles Dickens and Rizzo the Rat as himself. I also crack up pretty much anytime the bookkeepers or Sam Eagle are on screen. Their levity does a perfect job balancing out the somber parts of the movie.
There have been a lot of adaptations of A Christmas Carol, but only one of them has Muppets and Michael Caine. For me, this is without a doubt the best Christmas movie of all time, edging out the likes of A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This movie is the perfect mix of emotional highs and lows, punctuated by terrific songs. The puppeteering lives up to the amazing standard Jim Henson set for the company, and the human actors all do a wonderful job. It’s the movie I go to every Christmas, and it never gets old.